Former Connecticut Humane Society CFO Warned Of Poor Management Practices 2 Years Ago

February 9, 2010
By

The Connecticut Humane Society’s former chief financial officer two years ago warned its president and chairman that his management style was creating havoc among the employees.

Jeffrey Wands, who was CFO from 2006 to the summer of 2008, wrote a brutally frank letter to CHS President Richard Johnston, saying that the staff of one of the oldest and best known charities in Connecticut was becoming paranoid and ineffective as the result of the management culture that Johnston had created.

Wands did not respond to an email request for an interview and Johnston has refused to talk to any media about issues involving his Newington-based institution. CHS sources said Wands is traveling across the country to another job, apparently in California.

The two-page typed letter dated July 2, 2008, was recently obtained by CtWatchdog.com. According to CHS sources, Johnston did not share this letter with the board of directors of the 129-year-old institution. Some members of the board are now looking into the allegations against Johnston and are in possession of the letter.

Wands’ warning became reality last fall when, in an unprecedented move, the employees voted to form a union and came to CtWatchdog.com asking for help to expose the working conditions and the treatment of animals at the society’s four shelters.

As the result of the 18 to 15 vote to become a bargaining unit of the Machinists Union, Johnston, a lawyer and real estate agent who for 20 years has run the charity, fired three of the union organizers and is challenging the vote.

Two of them then wrote letters accusing Johnston of several improprieties and charged that Johnston was a bully who ran the charity like it was his personal business. I disclosed the complaints and provided the statements to state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has launched an investigation. OSHA is also investigating the Newington facility.

Johnston fired two more union supporters last week and placed another two union supporters on probation – one, in part, for not smiling enough and for not making proper eye contact according to his review, which I have published Sunday on my website.

Until this year, the Humane Society rarely put anyone on probation, workers told me. In the past 10 years, they said, only one person they know of was placed on probation and that was for a serious violation.

“This is a blatant attempt by Richard Johnston to fire anyone who supported the union, and it is resulting in lack of care for the animals at the shelter,” Cathy DeMarco, a spokeswoman for the workers, told me.

In his letter to Johnston, Wands wrote what amounted to an exit interview after resigning to seek other opportunities.

“Managers and staff feel buried in policies, procedures, and the growing list of documentation required,” Wands wrote. “There seems to be little room for creativity, flexibility, and at times even initiative.

“Managers and staff feel restricted on who they can talk to and about what.”

“My general experience is that CHS has facilitated managers to become insecure and paranoid,” he wrote.

Wands continued by writing that “A level of distrust is brewing as employees have expressed a feeling that someone is always watching and documenting what they say and do, as if management is building a file on everyone.”

“While the goal is to create a safe environment for the employees and protect the organization from future attacks made by disgruntled employees, the lack of flexibility in the organization is creating a stifling environment in many ways,” Wands wrote.

“Personally, I found CHS to be a challenging environment to work in, and I know others feel the same.”

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51 Responses to Former Connecticut Humane Society CFO Warned Of Poor Management Practices 2 Years Ago

  1. fred james on February 9, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Well, I think that does it. If he didn’t share the letter with the board, that’s gross misconduct by any definition I know of. Any longstanding managers still in his favor had better get on monster.com pronto.

    • OMD on February 9, 2010 at 9:27 pm

      Too work where Fred????? Any suggestions? Oh wait what do they have degrees in??? Creating a hostile work environment, discrimation. Should I keep going… Thanks for volunteerin when you did as on volunteer to another we appreciated you!

  2. Former Employee on February 9, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I agree with Wands statements wholeheartedly and made some of the exact same points in my exit interview when I resigned in 2009. I also provided the Coalition with a letter to give to the board echoing some of these issues. I hope the board accepts their responsibility and does whatever is in their power to turn this organization around. CHS has so much potential. It is a shame.

  3. Focus on February 9, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    He is looking for a new job? Mission almost accomplished! Woo hoo!

    • George Gombossy on February 9, 2010 at 8:39 pm

      Sorry, I just caught the mistake. Its the CFO that is getting a new job, NOT Johnston. My error. George

  4. Mayor Of Dogtown on February 9, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    OH CRAP…..we already started the block party!

    Well, the fight goes on then. Maybe if we get hold of more exit interviews and more former manager’s….the board will have to take notice!

  5. Greyhound Lover on February 9, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Wow…more and more former employees coming forward. With all of the comments from volunteers and employees and all the information former employees are providing the BOD better take action! Their performance as of yet has been quite disapointing.

    • JP on February 10, 2010 at 6:48 pm

      Disappointment is an understatement. The board is totally clueless to the realities of CHS. How pathetic!!

  6. kjh on February 10, 2010 at 5:43 am

    Jeff was well respected among the BOD. Hopefully this will validate the issues along with so many others. Jeff and I both left our management positions within two months a part. I should have been more truthful during my exit interview but once I announced my resignation he and Janice could barely acknowledge my existence and it was very uncomfortable as it always was sitting in his office. In fact, Richard didn’t speak a word to me during my final weeks and my last day of employment he left me a VOICE MAIL MESSAGE to acknowledge my departure (his office was literally right down the hall from desk… if I tried hard enough I could have flown a paper airplane through his office door from where I was sitting). Everything that Jeff stated was honest and factual. It’s good that this letter finally came out.

  7. Marge on February 10, 2010 at 8:02 am

    Bridget, Cathy and all involved, you have done a wonderful job and hopefully the situation at CHS will change for the better for everyone! Thank you Oh and Mr. Gombossy, you have been GREAT!!!

  8. Concerned Citizen on February 10, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Sorry for the Topic switch – while all of this is going on you would think RJ would be heads down at work in the shelter, caring for his employees and animals. Wrong, at approx. 4:40 p.m. I observed him leaving a Liqour/Package store in Avon yesterday. Could be an innocent stop to grab a bottle of wine for a friend…

    Funny how every other employee is back at the shelter hard at work. Maybe the BOD should put a GPS in his CHS supplied vehicle???

    • OMD on February 10, 2010 at 3:49 pm

      Funny thing is there was a BOD of directors meeting last night. Interesting!

    • Mayor Of Dogtown on February 10, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      Do you think he at least got enough for the whole crew….the CREW at this point is six…so a six pack is pretty much all ya need….

    • Concerned Citizen on February 10, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      No, actuallly BOD meeting was earlier in the day.

  9. Azy on February 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    hmmm I wonder why Johnston never shared that letter with the board of directors? Let’s see what happens when the BOD looks “into it”!!!

    • Mayor Of Dogtown on February 11, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      PLEASE let them do the right thing….PLEASE for the love of god! I can’t believe they think all this is just fluff. They have a responsibilty to the animals and the organization.

      • azy on February 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm

        I agree!!!!!

  10. Volunteer on February 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Volunteers are strongly being discouraged from speaking or blogging on open forums.

    • Another Volunteer on February 13, 2010 at 1:47 am

      No one has there has mentioned to me anything about not speaking or blogging on open forums. Of course, I haven’t asked.

    • Deborah Malina on February 13, 2010 at 7:46 am

      I received the below e mail yesterday after a confrontation/interagation at the humane society about the fact I posted to this blog and used my full name!

      Hi Deb,

      Thank you for taking the time to meet with me and Alicia today to discuss your concerns. We appreciate your thoughts and suggestions, but feel that it is no longer in the best interest of the Connecticut Humane Society for you to continue your volunteer service with our organization. Thank you for all of the hard work and dedication that you have given to our shelter animals. You have certainly touched the lives of all of the animals that you have helped during your time as a volunteer. We know that you are very passionate about helping animals, and we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

      Sincerely,

      Melissa Zaluski

      Director, Volunteer Services

      Connecticut Humane Society

      860-594-4502 x.6203

      • Volunteer on February 13, 2010 at 8:26 am

        I guess we don’t have freedom of speech in this country.

        • Anon on February 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

          Of course we don’t, especially not within the confines of the Connecticut Humane Society.

      • Another Volunteer on February 13, 2010 at 11:29 am

        Yikes!

        • last straw on February 13, 2010 at 11:44 am

          Wish we had a way to find out how many volunteers have stopped showing up. I don’t regret my decision to stay away!!

          • Volunteer on February 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm

            Melissa told me yesterday she monitors compliance with shifts volunteers have agreed to cover and what they actually show up for every month. You could try an FOI request to get this info.

          • Mer on February 14, 2010 at 10:23 am

            to Volunteer:

            FOIA inquiries only apply to government or quasi government entities. Richard went to court in the 1990s to ensure that CHS was NOT considered a quasi government entity and thereby NOT subject FOIA.

            Even back then he refused to answer any question he didn’t want to.

            The case can be found on google scholar.

      • Concerned too on February 13, 2010 at 11:54 am

        Unbelieveable! Chs is biting the hand that feeds them. So they first punished the animals and employees, now the volunteers! This just shows how chs is using and abusing the system. Keep your head up high Deborah.

      • Getting Really Angry! on February 13, 2010 at 6:25 pm

        Go ahead CHS, just KEEP adding fire to the fire! You are putting the lives of ANIMALS at risk….for the love of god, look at your Mission Statement….

      • Lindsay on February 13, 2010 at 7:31 pm

        WHAT?! Well that’s quite the eye opener to be “fired” from volunteering….Of all the rediculous things in the world, but I guess this only proves what I said earlier that he has every intention of taking the organization into the ground before he lets up. He will destroy everything associated with CHS, no one will trust the name anymore. So much for using the volunteers to replace the employees!

      • Volunteer on February 13, 2010 at 7:52 pm

        Unfortunately this doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m sure they’ve got a volunteer wait list a mile long with people they can very easily replace us with. Out with the old, in with the new. It’s why I’m on the fence about leaving, I just don’t understand what it will accomplish. They could care less if I leave or not, they’ll just get a new “me”. I, on the other hand, am very much committed to the CHS despite everything going on. I’m very committed to the workers I help and the animals I help care for. My leaving is not going to make any kind of impact whatsoever. I will continue to support the Coalition but I really don’t think my turning my back on the animals I help is going to do anything to support the cause. I met a few new volunteers recently – they’re not going to be shorthanded in that department. I feel that my help during this awful time of being so understaffed is more important right now than trying to be a martyr to a cause…because frankly, I won’t be – none of us will be. I’m sorry to everyone that doesn’t agree with this. It has not been easy for me. But for now I will continue to support the people and animals that need me and hope beyond hope that positive change is coming.

        • Mayor Of Dogtown on February 13, 2010 at 8:01 pm

          Vol, you have to do what you feel is right. We’re all in the same boat. I think it depends on what it is you do there. Some volunteer jobs are a smaller scale version of what a paid staff person is alraedy doing. The problem with getting new volunteer’s is that they need to be trained first and secondly, who is there to help them. They are not going to get supervision and they won’t be having direct contact with staff. Cuz there is no staff. I do agree that for some stepping back will not accomplish anything but for me, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I DO hope that change is coming.

          • another volunteer on February 13, 2010 at 9:22 pm

            I thought Melissa was pretty cool, BUT, I guess she’s just another one of his subservian minions.

          • Lindsay on February 13, 2010 at 11:01 pm

            I’d almost guarantee the letter was written by Alicia and not Melissa. That has PR written all over it. Probably something that was drafted a long time ago, is kept on file and they change the name and date.

          • Concerned too on February 13, 2010 at 11:39 pm

            Lindsay is correct!!!

        • One More Volunteer on February 14, 2010 at 12:45 am

          I’ve been posting under the name “Another Volunteer” but there seem to be at least two of us with that name. I’ll change my name to “One More Volunteer”.

          I agree with Volunteer about continuing to volunteer — I’m also staying with it — but I can certainly understand any volunteer who chooses not to continue there. I’m continuing there because I want the animals to have help they need, and I feel good when I help them.

          As for who among staff we know to be “good guys” or “bad guys”, I wouldn’t go there in this public forum. I’m sure that management reads these postings, and why give them ammunition against employees who may be sympathetic to the employees who have been fired.

      • OMG on February 14, 2010 at 1:18 am

        Deb ~ so sorry this had to happen. It’s bad enought about all the employee firings but it’s a sad state of affairs when volunteers are let go … While your letter was from Alicia who doesn’t have the *#!!!’s to have her name on it, I’m saddened that Melissa had to put her name on it. No doubt she would have been fired too if she didn’t send the letter out. Just goes to show people the fear Richard “Dick” instills in people. Real humane. You are a coward that hide behind all your minions & bark orders. Why is it that you don’t WAGG? Hmmmm….

        • Lindsay on February 14, 2010 at 4:07 pm

          Mrs. Wright is just as bad as the rest. When I worked there we had to fight HER to get Arthur, the pet therapy bunny adopted into a home. He lived in the shelter for over 3 years, only being taken out occassionally for visits, and while me may have initially enjoyed the attention, he became so stressed at the end, he lost nearly all of his fur. Yet she insisted he get fixed up by the vet and put back to work. We worked hard to find a replacement for him and to set a standard in place that would never put “outside obligations” ahead of the animals health and happiness. Too many years spent working with RJ has really skewed her perception on what is right and wrong.

      • Karma on February 14, 2010 at 1:31 am

        Some places of employment are known for their friendliness while others like CHS are now known for their “interrogations”! They’ve got that down pat. Richard, Alicia, et al, ~ humane = marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for other human beings or animals. Not inhumane which is what CHS currently is. This has got to change immediately or you will ruin the organization forever. Please “do the right thing”.

  11. uberVU - social comments on February 13, 2010 at 6:30 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by JanKozlowski: Former Connecticut Humane Society CFO Warned Of Poor Management Practices 2 Years Ago http://bit.ly/91Dh8x via @AddToAny…

  12. Concerned too on February 14, 2010 at 9:06 am

    HAPPY VALENTINES DAY EVERYONE!

  13. Joanne on February 14, 2010 at 11:48 am

    To the volunteers out there I do truely appreciated the time, work and committment that has been made by all. No one wants to loss volunteers or stifle freedom of speech. I can only speak for myself and not the organization. Some of the accustions and comments have become personal attacks on very good people. Please consider the effect of the accusations and the validity of these claims. I CHS because I love these animals and will stay for the same reason.

    • devil's advocate.... on February 14, 2010 at 1:47 pm

      This is true, some of the comments HAVE been personal attacks and this is not the forum for that. HOWEVER, having said that, what about the unjust firings of ALL of the adoption staff minus 2….are you saying these are NOT good people? They have been sadly mistreated and left on unemployment for the silliest of reasons which almost always came down to doing what was right for an animal. The organization however does not hold up to it’s name and therefore, here we are!

    • OMG on February 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      HYPOCRITE! You are one of the worst offenders…………..

      • Lindsay on February 14, 2010 at 4:10 pm

        Seriously. You should have thought about all this before you burned your bridges. But maybe you realize that since you only wish to reach out to the volunteers and not the employees you pushed away. Way to step on toes for your own advancement, but don’t think people will forgive and forget so easily.

    • OMG on February 14, 2010 at 3:05 pm

      Personal attacks, accusations…that’s like calling the kettle black. CHS has unjustly accused innocent people of wrongdoings. They have interrogated innocent people and made false claims. We never had “freedom of speech”. That is why the people called in the union. It is management against employees. You have/had wonderful devoted employees who loved their jobs too only to be met with continual harrassment & micro managing. Open your eyes & take a good look. Listen to what the employees and volunteers are saying. Only then will things improve.

      • InTheKnow on February 17, 2010 at 8:09 am

        One can not serve well if not happy.. People in any business will not like everyone and they’ll talk. That is human nature.
        Think about this.. a volunteer does just that.. they volunteer their time and energy to help these pets. I say pets because that’s what they are.. like giving up a family member to many. These family members are terrified to be left behind and they will have behaviour issues. These volunteers have nothing to gain by this.. they’re not looking for a raise they are there for the pets alone and they are being harassed and “let go” for one reason because it is you, RJ has to fear. You can not sue for libel when truth is spoken. Before these pets can be treated fairly and humanly, the people caring for them must be treated fairly and humanly and this is what it’s all about.
        DO NOT GIVE UP!!!!!!

        George.. I personally thank you for your perseverence in this matter.

    • A Volunteer on February 15, 2010 at 9:59 am

      Joanne

      Point well taken. Nonetheless, as a volunteer, I am appalled at the volume of behavioral euthanasias. Agreed that some furballs shouldn’t be adopted out if they’ve had a biting incident or two. However, what about some behavioral counseling/therapy for them which might mean a transfer to another facility, whether it be a CHS sanctuary or a different organization. Has that been considered? I can’t speak for others but I’d be willing to commit some of my time to help locate/transfer these critters. It’s hard to comprehend so much euthanasia when other options are available…

    • Focus on February 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm

      It took me 2 seconds to “consider the validity of these claims,” as you have requested us to do. 99% of the claims made on this message board are true. And to say that “no one wants to [lose] volunteers” conflicts with the fact that very capable and talented volunteers have just been “fired” for speaking out against management. Check your own facts and truly re-assess the way CHS is going and you will see that those of us BEGGING for Johnston to go away quietly are in the right…management at CHS is truly ruining the organization, and costing animals their lives.

    • Also a Volunteer on February 16, 2010 at 11:42 am

      Before jumping to conclusions I personally don’t think this person is who you all think it is. I think it’s someone else utilizing her name to make it LOOK that way. No matter what anyone’s opinion is about her, I would imagine if she chose to come on this blog and use her name she would put a little more thought into her post and it wouldn’t be riddled with grammatical mistakes. Just my opinion.

  14. yet another volunteer on February 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    While I am outraged to learn so many terrible things about CHS, I am relieved to finally “get it.” I have volunteered for three years and I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that there is something just not right about the place. After reading all these articles and posts, I now understand the awful working environment and its consequences to the people and animals at CHS. At one point I had concluded that many of the employees just didn’t like animals all that much…now I understand they are treated so poorly and essentially prevented from doing the job they want to do. My two very brief interactions Johnston were very unpleasant. I am torn between just walking away from such a dreadful place, and not wanting the animals there to suffer any further because of a shortage of staff and volunteers. The whole situation is so very, very sad.

  15. InTheKnow on February 17, 2010 at 7:58 am

    I just witnessed the CHS commercial on “Animal Planet” and let me tell you, the first thing that came to mind was $$$$$$ and all at the expense of first, the animals and then employes. Today I shall e-mail Animal Planet with these links. What in heavens name were these board members thinking? Perhaps everyone reading this should do the same.. It will take moments.





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